The search for evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence is one of the most exciting pursuits in astronomy today. Needless to say, there is a lot of controversy and debate surrounding the topic, partly due to an event which happened in 1977 – the famous “Wow!” signal. The brief but unusual radio transmission was detected only once, and the debate over its origin has continued to this day. Now, a group of astronomers are claiming to have finally solved the mystery. According to their new study just published, the signal came not from aliens, but comets.
The “Wow!” signal was first detected on Aug. 15, 1977 by Astronomer Jerry Ehman, who was using the Ohio State University’s Big Ear radio telescope to search the sky for possible alien radio signals. He found a strong signal coming from the direction of a group of stars called Chi Sagittarii, which lasted for 72 seconds. It was unusual enough that he circled it on the computer readout and wrote “Wow!” The signal displayed characteristics of coming from space, not Earth, but unfortunately it was never heard again.
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(Addendum: some astronomers, such as Chris Lintott, have expressed strong skepticism about the new paper and that comets are the answer. See his responding thread on Twitter).